Tensions between Chinese mobile giant Huawei and the U.S. are likely to rise even higher after the Washington Post reported that the company has allegedly been secretly working with the Chinese firm to build and maintain North Korea’s commercial wireless network.
The allegations in the Washington Post report stem from a number of internal documents the Post said it sourced from a handful of former Huawei employees. These documents consist of work orders, contracts, and detailed spreadsheets that track the company’s worldwide telecommunications operations. According to the report, Huawei worked with Panda International Information Technology Co. Ltd., a Chinese state-owned company, on a number of projects over the course of at least eight years. It was this arrangement with Panda that reportedly made Huawei’s involvement harder to track.
It is worth mentioning that Huawei is not the only company to do business with the isolated regime of North Korea. Delivery company DHL also does business with the country. The concern appears to stem from the fact that Huawei uses certain American-owned technologies in its components, and whether the company violated U.S. export controls when it supplied those components to North Korea.
This is by no means the first conflict between Huawei and the U.S. government. The U.S. has traditionally been wary of any connection between Huawei and the Chinese government, and has long worried backdoors could be opened by the company to allow China to spy on U.S. government affairs. Those fears were exacerbated in April when U.K. company Vodafone claimed to have found backdoors in its Huawei-supplied equipment.
Most recently, the U.S. placed Huawei on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Entity List,” meaning the company could not buy parts from U.S. companies without the approval of the federal government. That ban was partially lifted in late June by U.S. President Donald Trump. Still, there are those who suspect that the Huawei ban is simply a way for the U.S. to win leverage over China in the ongoing trade war.
There is currently no word on whether North Korean officials are worried about China using Huawei’s infrastructure to spy on them. We reached out to Huawei for a comment on this story, and a Huawei spokesperson told Digital Trends: “Huawei has no business presence in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Huawei is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, U.S., and EU.”
Updated on July 23, 2019: Added Huawei’s official quote on the matter.